The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

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MAY 2013 Issue


Leah Umansky
Domestic Uncertainties
(BlazeVOX, 2013)

Leah Umansky admits impediments. In fact, her topos of a marriage-gone-bad is previewed on the cover (she did the collage). A wedding cake couple floats above rocks under a stormy sky framed by flaming red curtains. The poetry is much more subtle but no less vivid.

Having established a story line, Umansky draws on her emotions. She plays on words that convey disparate information, such as homonyms and contronyms like “wound” and “might.” The words are both wound and wounded, forcing the reader to shift associations as the author rifles through subtexts, letting the language have its own say.

Stately, smart and resourceful, the imaginative inquiry finds its quarry. The style ranges from open-field verse to quasi-proems, occasionally collapsing into talky repetition.

In my favorite poem, called “Into the Margin,” Umansky writes with powerful, self-affirming élan. Reserves develop into resolve. “I fingered my ecret. / (you caused it) // So close to:  Écriture.” Ecret is a cool word and then to follow it up with Écriture — priceless! Cool and also cool. She distills the chill as her significant other slips “into the margin.” She decants the hours’ spirits by shuttling between “a) exploration / b) despair.”

Learning to “un-love” is no mean task. Umansky uncovers meaning in “the telling.” From the wound comes “the blooming.” She admits being “stunned / but never stunted.” She’ll steal your steel.

Rob Cook
Blueprints for a Genocide
(Spuyten Duyvil, 2012)

Like Mithridates, who took small amounts of poison to become immune to assassins, Rob Cook ingests the rot of empire. He refashions it into ingots of resistance. Subtitled, “A Response to Occupy Wall Street,” the book uses the enemy’s argot to strengthen Cook’s Surrealist attack.
This poet is acutely aware of our collective dystopia. Generally delivering his “dismantled/rainbows” in skinny lines, he lashes out. The tone is subdued but entrancing, heightened by lyric panache. “Galloping/parts/of/the/night/impaled/on/headlight beams.”

In the first of 18 poems, the bard hacks into “an/unsafe/world/where/people/are/stacked/like/cords/of wood.” In this foreboding context, metaphors emote doom. “Plundered wells” gives voice to our eerie fear of fracking.

There seems to be nowhere to hide from the deluge of “floods/of/humans,” “anti-aging/propaganda” and scowling, ten-story models. Meaningless coliseums whisper as we march through the scrap yard.

In a sci-fi finale, society is resurrected. Artists thrive and the rain is clean. Sometimes Cook’s lines lack tension. But his overview is clear.

Cook is good at juxtaposing opposing notions such as “champagne/laptops” and “safe/cholera.” This double-edged imagery resonates in our deteriorating world. Nobly and alchemically, Cook separates pleasure and poison.

Marjorie Welish
In the Futurity Lounge, Asylum for Indeterminacy
(Coffee House Press, 2012)

Is poetry a social prod or a dialectical production? Marjorie Welish addresses this ponderability fully in her double-titled new book, a provocative hybrid—a showcase for a preponderance of linguistic flair.
Different “languages” such as music, criticism and semiotics search through nomenclature in drafted passages. The first section is based on architecture and specific works by Roebling, Wright, and Koolhaas. Their constructions act as frames on which new definitions of Modernism accrete.

Anaphoras abound in the “bracketing pages” as Welish excavates silver layers of signage. Hart Crane’s “The Bridge” is recalled. We are sometimes reminded that we’re reading a document—or map or blueprint—as the text veers between directives and commentary. “PLEASE POST,” “FOLD HERE,” and “YOU ARE HERE” are examples of the former. “Untranslatable but not at all points,” “Suspension of saying,” and “Extract this evening’s impatient pitch variations from time immemorial…” are examples of the latter. Here’s a synthesis: “The object/created of illocutionary force obliges the double fold. For interpreting the proposition MODERNITY….”

Pamphlets, taxonomies, marginalia, transmissions and testimonials inhabit the frequency. Play directions surface in “INTERIOR.”  The poet wonders how Julius Caesar can be “tried through the enthymeme/in which he appears.”

I love the dictionary and I admire Welish’s organizational perspective. Her endlessly inflected reflections are demanding but sustained. This “wounded language” is branded by ascription, disinterred by sun.


Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

JEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT is a poet, publisher, critic, collage artist and eco-activist involved in the community gardens of New York City.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues